Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest Post: Castles in the Bavarian Alps

Hey everyone-it's Larissa here from and I'm excited to be a guest blogger on this fabulous website! 

One of my favorite things to do is explore castles. On my last trip, we managed to visit 13 different castles in 18 days-not too shabby. Usually, when people think of castles, they think of England-and they certainly have a TON of them. But for most people, Germany doesn't come to mind. And the Bavarian Alps are home to one of the most spectacular. So as soon as I booked my side trip to Germany, I went on a mission to find some castles. 
I booked into the Royal Castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Day Tour tour through for a few reasons. The price was right (aka I was able to google a coupon code), it included visits to two different castles, and logistically speaking, it was just easier. We were based in Munich for this leg of the trip, and it's quite a hike whether you're driving it or taking the train. I avoid tours when I can since I like to do things at my own pace (which is usually faster than everyone else's). But the great thing about this tour is that they give you some guidance, advice on routes, and set you free to go about on your own. 

Before we get down to business, a little bit of background on the mad king: "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria succeeded to the throne when he was 18. He basically said to hell with affairs of state, and spent every penny that he could get his hands on building these extravagant palaces. And then when he ran out of money, he borrowed every penny that he could to support this habit. Liberace would have been proud.  

Our first visit took us to his "Summer Residence".  Known as Linderhof Palace, it was the smallest of the three palaces that he commissioned to be built, and the only one that he lived to see completed. This particular tour does not include admission INSIDE of the palaces, but rather only to the grounds. After looking into it prior to the trip,we decided to skip it as the tours at both palaces took up a majority of the time there and didn't leave much time to explore.

The summer residence - bavarian alps
The Summer Residence
Linderhof itself is actually quite small-but the grounds that it sits on are quite large. It's supposed to look spectacular in the spring and summer with the large gardens and hillsides in full bloom, but since we were there in November, we didn't get to see it. Aside from the gardens, the grounds are still quite picturesque, and I highly recommend taking the time to wander around.

After that, it's off to the main attraction - Neuschwanstein Castle! The castle was originally intended to be a private refuge for the reclusive king, and in an ironic twist, it became one of the country's most popular tourist attractions, visited by over a million people a year.

 We were dropped in town at the bottom of the mountain. From there, you have two options for making your way up: you can take a horse drawn carriage ride to the top (which takes quite a while), or you can take a shuttle bus up for about one Euro each way, which we opted to do. One advantage with taking the shuttle bus is that it drops you off at an intersection at the top of the mountain, where you can either trek to the suspension bridge, or start the hike towards the castle. If you're planning on hitting up the suspension bridge, trust me when I say that this is the way to go. The horse and carriage drops you off on the complete opposite of the mountain, and if you're on a tour, chances are you won't have enough time to do both. 

As soon as we disembarked from the bus, we decided to head to the suspension bridge since we were so close. If you're looking for on of those magnificent pictures that you see when you Google Neuschwanstein, this is the only way that you can get them-by braving the suspension bridge from hell. Why do I call it that? Because when it's loaded with people-like it was when we were there, the wooden bridge begins to bow. But since I didn't trek all this way for nothing, I was going to get my picture, whether I fell to death or not.

suspension bridge Bavarian Alps
The view from the suspension bridge looking down

Neuschwanstein castle
The money shot!
Does this castle look familiar? It should-it's the inspiration behind Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disney World. Make sure you have on comfortable shoes for the day, because it's a good hike to get to the actual castle itself, with some slippery spots and steep hills. Again, there's an interior tour that you have the option to purchase, but it takes so long to get up and back that it doesn't leave time to do anything else-at least on this particular tour anyway. Make sure to allow yourself at least an hour to get down from the mountain to make your ride back. The buses fill, and you may have to wait for a few shuttles before you make it onto one. 

King Ludwig died before it was anywhere near completed. Though he never wanted the castle accessible to the public, it was open for visits only six weeks after he died to pay off the construction debts. During World War II, the SS actually considered blowing up the entire thing to prevent it (and it's valuable artwork) from falling into the enemy's hands. Thankfully, the war ended before they were able to do so.

If you have time to kill in Munich, it's worth the trip out to see these two amazing castles. And if you're crazy like we are, there's also the opportunity to go gliding over Neuschwanstein in the warmer summer months.

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